The Deconstruction of Mayhem
It’s kind of this upside down feeling being lost in the mayhem. Trying to understand the world, our place in it, and wondering if music still has the power to change the world – the way that I once believed it could. Sitting down with artists this year feels a little superficial. Not that they are superficial, but this business of music feels like something is amiss. Is it missing that personal touch or its usual personality? Or is it that, today, there are nothing but personalities and not a lot of substance? I cannot say. I can say that as I am sitting across from Clown from Slipknot our conversation helped me to clarify this feeling of needing to break it all down. Maybe we need to tear life down to its foundations in order to figure it all out again. I know that I need to make sense of the mayhem that goes beyond the Mayhem Fest. Clown just released a new book, Apocalyptic Nightmare Journey, that attempts to make sense of his world through photography. This idea, after speaking to him at Book Soup continues to haunt me and invade my world even as my mind needs to be on the task at hand. Mayhem. Chaos. This yearly festival sponsored by Rockstar is why I’m here to do it all over again. It’s my cycle. Perhaps its my penance to cover some of the biggest names in metal with bands like As I Lay Dying, Anthrax, The Devil Wears Prada, Slayer and Slipknot. It’s a who’s who list of metal past and present and on the surface a good mix of music, substance and…for lack of a better term, mayhem.
Anthrax is classic Anthrax, even as they mock the crowd. Joey Belladonna screams that they’ve seen better mosh pits at a Maroon 5 concert. This works the crowd into a frenzy. It’s a tried and true trick and it brings the noise and fury that the East Coast band is known for. But my thoughts continue to be with my conversation with Clown. Clown is an interesting character, but his alter ego, M.Shawn Crahan is equally as interesting. You could pass him on the streets and never recognize him. With the mask Clown is an enigma. Without the mask he looks more like a dad than someone that might be hiding behind a rock star persona. One would assume to find M. Shawn at the brickyard before you would a stage and yet he helped found the mega sensation that is Slipknot. Not just founded, the masks were Clown’s idea along with Paul Gray who passed away recently, a victim of rock and roll in some ways. But another way to say it is that Paul was a victim of his own circumstance and that leaves him as nothing more than a memory for the rest of us. His spirit though is very much a part of this deconstruction, I discover, as I continue to talk to Clown about his art…but more on this later. At the moment, I am finding it difficult to wrap my mind around this idea that M. Shawn Crahan created this thing: this band that personifies this very idea that the fate of the world can only be reassessed after it is torn down to its foundations and only then can what’s real be born from its ashes. This view, or Clown’s view, is cyclical and at the same time completely without symmetry. This is what makes Clown’s art perfect. It’s the lack of certainty. If there are patterns, they must be destroyed in order to find new meaning. That is something that he shares openly as he sits across from me – exposing me to the inner workings of his mind and maybe exposing me to his inner creativity the only way he knows how. Through his art. Not his music. Not this time. This time it is his photography that begs to be mused upon and have meaning possibly be extrapolated from it. Or not. I doubt Clown cares. Not that he doesn’t care about his art. He cares deeply about it. But he doesn’t care about your interpretation of this reality he’s created. And it’s not that he doesn’t appreciate your point of view or your reality – he does. But he’s already busy constructing and deconstructing his own fantasies almost without ceasing. This Apocalyptic interpretation of reality as seen through his eyes takes is form from loneliness.
Clown is an only child. His life has been this crazy cycle of touring (which saps him of everything that is normal), recovery (rediscovering normalcy in daily life), and a kind of reconstruction of new realities and ways of interpreting things that make it all come together in a new way. It’s his attempt at finding salvation. Finding solace in the fact that death is inevitable and present and past relationships, no matter how long lasting they seem from the outside, hold the exact same meaning. His art and his life are a kind of “scratch.” This idea of blurred lines and impressions of images that are supposed to be messed up or broken. His perception is based upon the real idea that everything is and should be unique and imperfect in order to see how it’s our imperfection or our inability to replicate the perception of reality is beyond absurd – it’s impossible. Clowns stares at me very intensely and tells me that we can’t possibly be similar and that all we have to do is look in the mirror and realize how very different we all are from one another. We are as different as our reflections. That difference is neither good nor bad – it’s just reality. Reality gets Clown into trouble though.
Reality as a construct is a theme that I want to pursue…the kind of reality that Clown encouraged through his explanation that there is beauty in the ugliness of life or death that needs to be examined. Not necessarily for what we see in front of us, but because what we see needs to be embraced for all of its meaning. People vomit. People defecate. People die. And we can only look at these things as unique periods in time in our existence that might have something else to tell us. Our bodies secrete endorphins when we vomit, he tells me as he retells a story about his son’s friend who he is currently mentoring. They create a feeling of being “high” however so brief to help us get through the shock. That picture he took encapsulates all of that and none of that for those that want to embrace it. Though on Facebook this photo Clown posted got him banned until he promised not to repost what some might consider objectionable. If it’s objectionable, Clown is open to the dialogue. He thinks that is why art is created. Clown is about critique, but not about judgment. Though he’s aware he will be judged almost the same way that Slipknot will be judged. It is here, in this reality, that I really begin to see the world become stripped down around me. Can we be saved from ourselves once the deconstruction has begun?
I want to ask bands like As I Lay Dying and The Devil Wears Prada these same questions about the deconstruction of reality. Both bands have strange names and pledge allegiance to alternative paths in regards to faith. They are the rising stars of metal hell bent on presenting a deep wellspring of ideas in a heavy and brutal way and it’s why I got into metal core in the first place. I wanted to ask these bands what sets them apart. On stage they’re as aggressive and melodic as metal core can get..though here at Mayhem The Devil Wears Prada seems less at home on the main stage.
When I finally get to chat with members of both bands and as I try to convey these complex ideas to them I initially get these petrified looks that suggested that they hoped I was going to be the guy that asked about their musical influences or how excited they were to be here. Instead they got the guy who wanted to know what made them tick. They weren’t ready for this barrage of open ended and esoteric questions. But for me, rock and roll is like that movie “Almost Famous” where you have to ask serious questions. Unfortunately you can’t ask serious questions at a party because the serious moments of deconstruction are about solitude. It’s hard to be alone at the Mayhem Festival. My deep questions sort of fall on deaf ears when I ask some of these guys what makes them what makes them different from the other bands at the festival. They are hours from taking various stages before the show stoppers that are Slipknot and both groups are a little hesitant to tackle their true place in this mix. I try to point out how different they are from bands like Slayer and Anthrax. I believe their place is deserving and continues to be groundbreaking…but they are content to blend into their surroundings. I want to point out what a big deal they really are just being here. But their current party line is that they are content to call themselves “members of a band that happen to be Christians.” Maybe they really are just happy to be playing music for a living. They certainly are happy to engage their fans at a very basic and fun level. But I can’t help but see the irony in this that they just want to have fun as Clown wrestles for redemption and salvation.
Which brings me back to my thoughts on Mayhem Festival 2012 in general. Slayer still packs a punch, as does Slipknot, but for different reasons and maybe even attracting an interesting mix of how metal is even played anymore. Slayer is old school. The elder statesmen of metal can still crunch with the best of them. But Slipknot is the show. I still maintain this from the very first time I saw this crazy festival of Clowns bringing their antics and fire complete with marching drums and insanity. It’s a show and it can teach us all that the reason we get into this is for the music, but the reason we stay is because we need to stay interested. Even as I tear it all down and rebuild it in order to find my own meaning in the Mayhem. These are the reasons I stay interested. Maybe it’s the only way that I can work out my own salvation – when my life is in mayhem. If this is life, I must leave you with this thought – Can beauty rise from its ashes?